In search for hidden COVID-19 cases, state program tracks surge of virus in Hawaii

State program that searches for hidden COVID cases reveals a surge of the virus in Hawaii

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - A state program designed to search for hidden cases of coronavirus has revealed an alarming new surge of virus in the community.

From June 28 to July 4, 10.4% of the 77 tests sampled in the state’s COVID-19 Sentinel Surveillance Program came back positive for coronavirus. That’s double what it was the previous week ― and the highest number recorded since the program was launched in March.

The cases the surveillance program catches would have otherwise been missed.

Samples for the Sentinel Testing Program are collected from outpatient clinics across the state. They’re from people of all ages who tested negative for flu and have no travel history outside of Hawaii.

The state launched the program March 8 in an effort to get an understanding of what would otherwise be unseen transmission of COVID-19 in the community.

The program didn’t really start picking up any cases until the week of March 22. Out of 159 samples collected that week, 6.9% tested positive for the virus.

Cases dropped significantly during the quarantine. There were five weeks the testing didn’t pick up any cases at all.

Then another uptick began the week of June 7, topping out at 10.4% the first week of July.

A state program is designed to catch hidden cases of coronavirus in the community.
A state program is designed to catch hidden cases of coronavirus in the community. (Source: Hawaii News Now)

State epidemiologist Sarah Park said it’s “definitely a concern” when there’s a rise in positives in the surveillance program.

“There is widespread circulating disease, especially on Oahu. And now indication that it may be certain extent on the neighbor islands,” she said.

Lt. Gov. Josh Green estimates overall testing has only detected a fraction of what’s really there.

Since the start of the pandemic, 108,182 people have been swabbed for the virus in Hawaii and 1.3% of those patients were infected.

Meanwhile, 2% of 2,319 surveillance samples have come back positive.

Once identified, the cases are added to the statewide count and contact tracing begins.

“I’ve felt for a long time that would be the case,” said Green. “That we would have three or four times the number of cases that are actively out there as opposed to what we catch.”

Both the Department of Health and Green stressed the importance of social distancing and wearing a mask in close quarters.

“For every 100 cases you prevent as a society that’s 10 fewer hospitalizations and up to two fewer fatalities,” Green said.

Copyright 2020 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.